For anyone who ever silently wished – above the sound of hopelessly out-of-tune power chords – that their roommate could actually play guitar, junior American studies major Brittany Tranbaugh is a dream girl. She skillfully finger picks folk melodies on her 5-year-old Martin guitar that will soothe anyone, even after a post-Starbucks run-in with the Red Bull car.
Her talents extend to everything from banjo to mandolin to ukulele and she has a voice like honey. Yet, when she recalls practicing in her dorm freshman year, the thought, “Oh my God, I don’t want to disturb anybody,” is a dominant memory. If only the tone-deaf roommates of the world were so thoughtful.
With a soft and smoky voice, it’s quite improbable that the sandy blonde with ethereal waves in her hair would ever disturb anyone. Her debut album, “The Good in That,” flows through 10 tracks of delicate guitar picking that is gently layered with upright bass, cello, piano, Celtic harp and group harmonies. The effect is folksy, calming and uplifting – like if Gillian Welch got happier and started hanging out with Iron & Wine and Amos Lee when he was making “Mission Bell.”
Back in 2009, Tranbaugh headed to Morning Star Studios in Spring House, Pa., to record “The Good in That,” guided by Grammy-winning producer Glenn Barratt. Almost a decade after first picking up her father’s guitar, the self-taught musician fulfilled her dream of putting together an album. The final piece was quite a progression from her pre-teen days, Tranbaugh said.
“My first songs were pretty rough,” Tranbaugh said. “They were pretty corny.”
For Tranbaugh, a rough start is all the better for musical inspiration. She wrote “The Good in That” while dealing with the trials and tribulations of those annoying high school experiences, like heartbreak, which are a rite of passage for gaining any insight in life.
“It’s from one part of my life and I think it kind of chronicles a lot of realizations that I had and a lot of things that I went through,” Tranbaugh said of the album’s lyrical content. “But, I think at the same time, people can relate to it a lot.”
Indeed, the album transcends those high school matters. On “Sister Blue Eyes,” a song offering comfort while dealing with dating issues, Tranbaugh sings, “When do boys get wise? / I don’t know” – a perfect anti-frat party anthem.
Anyone who dreams of a world free from prejudice and negativity can relate to the poppy, smile-inducing “Song for Freedom.” The most universal theme of the album is a desire for human connection, for solidarity. It’s an idea Tranbaugh carried through the album’s creation, enlisting 14 friends to be her musical accompaniment.
“It was just a really cool kind of community experience,” she said.
She brought the same kind of enthusiasm for collaboration when she attended the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, Tenn., in 2009 as one of the youngest performers. At the prestigious gathering, she recalled pulling an all-nighter just to jam with other attendees.
“There’s like three or four floors of the hotel where every single room becomes a venue. So, starting from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. you’re booked in all these hotel rooms and it’s the craziest thing ever,” she said. “You’re literally just walking through a hallway in a hotel and there is just beautiful music pouring out of every room.”
Her genuine passion for folk music has earned her numerous gigs. While attending a performing arts high school in Bethlehem, Pa., Tranbaugh took to cozy coffeehouses for shows. Then, after a Martin Guitar representative noticed her at a performance, she began playing larger venues. She’s since stood on the stages of Musikfest in Bethlehem, Hard Rock Café and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, in Hillsdale, N.Y.
No matter how big of a stage she gets to, Tranbaugh said she maintains close ties to the community that inspires her.
She currently interns at the Philadelphia Folksong Society and is an active member of Temple’s chapter of the Music and Entertainment Industry Student Association, through which she helps organize singer/songwriter events for students to share their talents and meet other musicians. And, more often than not, Tranbaugh can be found strumming away in the middle of a songwriter circle or house show.
“I had no idea when I was coming to Temple that I would feel such a sense of community with other singer/songwriters,” Tranbaugh said. “It’s been a really great time.”
When she leaves Main Campus, Tranbaugh said she wants to pursue a full-time music career. Until then, folk lovers can catch her at the M Room at 15 W. Girard Ave. on May 3 at 9 p.m.
Marisa Steinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.